Waking Dream is a multimedia project by New York-based artist Bill Jones that traces the first hundred years of photography, from its invention in 1839 to its modernist triumphs in the early 20th century. The exhibition integrates still and moving imagery and a wide range of media techniques to reinterpret historical works. Looking to the composite images of 19th-century British photographer Henry Peach Robinson and the sequenced motion studies of Robinson’s contemporary Eadweard Muybridge, through to the advent of cinema, Jones maps early analogue history onto the contemporary digital landscape.
The origins of photography and the evolution of its aesthetic forms has informed Jones’ work throughout his career, from his early years in California, where he grew up near Muybridge’s photography studio, to his involvement with the Vancouver School of conceptual photography in the 1970s, to his later collaborative explorations in interactive video. His work breathes new life into the history of the photographic medium, bringing forth a sense of freely moving forward and backward through time and space.
Throughout Waking Dream, the consumptive sleeping figure from Robinson’s composite photo She Never Told Her Love (1857) repeatedly appears. Here she is cast as Hypatia, a pagan woman who was said to have witnessed Christ’s image appear in a piece of cloth submerged in the water. For Jones, Hypatia’s miracle in some ways presages the invention of photography in the late 1830s, establishing the medium’s essence as a metaphysical experience rather than as a series of evolving recording devices. In Waking Dream, Hypatia travels through time and witnesses the birth of photography and its subsequent growth. Throughout, she is attended by figures animated from Muybridge’s sequential motion studies.
The title Waking Dream references the 1993 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition The Waking Dream: Photography’s First Century, curated by Maria Morris Hambourg. For Hambourg, the titular turn of phrase is suggestive of “the haunting power of photographs to commingle past and present, to suspend the world and the artist’s experience of it in unique distillations.” Jones dramatizes this commingling of past and present in his installation through the use of archival materials, animation software, and innovative digital techniques. To accompany the visual components of Waking Dream, Jones has written a score based on the folk song Kathleen Mavourneen, which was published in 1839—the same year that Louis Daguerre introduced his photographic processes to the public. The song remained popular during roughly the same historical period that Jones focuses on in his work.
Muybridge’s early stop-motion photography experiments first posited photography as a durational art form and presaged motion picture projection. These explorations are echoed in Jones’ work, which is equally concerned with the temporal and incremental aspects of images in motion. Further, Muybridge’s post-production addition of clouds into his landscapes and Robinson’s use of multiple negatives stitched together into elaborate tableaus are techniques paralleled in Jones’ use of sampling technology and layered loops in the networked software he has used to produce his work of the last two decades. Preliminary experiments in photography have alternately collapsed, expanded, and suspended time; the works that comprise Waking Dream take up this thread, unspooling it into the present.